Saturday, May 16, 2009

In The Details

I bought my tiny icon of Our Lady Of Vladimir about 12 years ago when I worked at Alba House Communications, and she’s been with me through everything. Some days I just walk by her with a glance, other days I stare intently at every detail of her face, soaking in everything that the image has to teach me.

Icons are much more than devotional paintings. An ancient form of writing, as an iconographer would most likely say (icons are referred to as having been “written” in the Orthodox church), the icon is the oldest form of worship aid, carrying within its brushstrokes the Tradition of faith, dating back to St. Luke, credited with the image of “Our Lady of Tenderness”, the foundation image of my Lady of Vladimir.

Every detail of the icon means something.

The gold trim adorning her dark, earthy mantle is a sign of her status, yet it is mere trim, whereas Christ is completely adorned in a robe of gold. She shares in eternal life, but not in divinity. On her head and shoulders are stars. These indicate the Trinity. Christ himself is the star of her right shoulder.

Look at how He is depicted here: not an infant, but a full-grown man with the face of a child. His gaze is fixed on her, his arms wrapped around her in a tight, loving embrace. Is he breathing life into her? She leans her head toward Him to receive, while her gaze is fixed on me, her eyes sad yet peaceful. She doesn’t smile, but there is joy in her face. She supports Christ with one hand, and with her other she welcomes me into the embrace, into the mystery.

Our Lady of Tenderness is truly a symbol of the Church. Doesn't Christ want to embrace each of us as well, and breathe into us the breath of life? I want to be like her, standing with arms open, ready to welcome anyone who seeks Him.

To read more about the history of icons and their use in worship, read Praying With Icons by Jim Forest.

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